European Union - POLSKA УКРАЇНА

Dutch Police Arrest 6 Men After Discovery of ‘Torture Chambers’

Dutch police announced Tuesday they arrested six men after discovering shipping containers that had been converted into a makeshift prison and sound-proofed “torture chamber.”  In their statement, officials said they discovered seven converted sea shipping containers in a warehouse in Wouwse Plantage, a small village in the southwestern part of the Netherlands, close to the border with Belgium.  Law enforcement authorities released video Tuesday showing a special police unit opening the shipping containers to reveal a specially rigged dentists’ chair, along with tools that included pliers, scalpels and handcuffs.  Police say the discoveries were originally made last month after investigating leads generated by data from encrypted telephones used by criminals that were cracked recently by French police. Detectives in Britain and the Netherlands have already arrested hundreds of suspects based on the encrypted messages.The police said they were tipped off by messages from an EncroChat phone that included photos of the container and dentist’s chair with belts attached to the arm and foot supports. They arrested six men June 22, on suspicion of crimes including planning kidnappings and serious assault.  The messages called the warehouse the “treatment room” and the “ebi,” a reference to a top security Dutch prison. Police said the messages also revealed identities of potential victims, who were warned and went into hiding.Dutch authorities said last week that their investigation, codenamed 26Lemont, based on millions of messages from the EncroChat phones, had led to the arrest of more than 100 suspects and the seizure of more than 8,000 kilograms of cocaine and 1,200 kilograms of crystal meth, as well as the dismantling of 19 synthetic drug labs and the seizure of dozens of firearms.
 

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Can Europeans Handle a Spike in COVID-19 Cases?

The United States is not the only country watching anxiously as coronavirus cases spike.Britain is poised to shutter individual towns in the event of a rise in confirmed cases. And the government has already locked down the English town of Leicester, where textile factories may be behind an alarming jump in infections, just as the rest of the country celebrated the easing of restrictions.Serbia reimposed a lockdown Friday as cases began to mount. Last month, neighboring Croatia reinstituted mandatory two-week self-isolation for travelers arriving from other Balkan countries. Bulgaria extended its state of emergency until July 15 and has made mask-wearing mandatory inside stores and public buildings.Deputy Migration Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos, right, greets the 25 unaccompanied refugee children as they prepare to board a plane to Lisbon, Portugal at Athens International Airport, July 7, 2020.Following new outbreaks, Portugal renewed coronavirus restrictions on the capital, Lisbon, and the Spanish government has moved quickly with restrictions on parts of northeast Spain to try to tamp down local spikes.Some government officials say the biggest problem is persuading the public to observe social distancing rules and wearing masks. The easing of lockdowns and the reopening of economies do not mean caution should be jettisoned, they say.  Underlining their appeals for people to remain cautious and vigilant is an exasperation with egregious recklessness, prompting officials in some countries to question whether their citizens have the discipline or sense of civic responsibility to be trusted.In Britain, police expressed their frustration with maskless crowds converging outside bars and restaurants in some towns, including in central London. Last Saturday, the first day that bars reopened in England after the coronavirus shutdown, police described the close-quarters drinking and shoulder-to-shoulder socializing as “absolute madness.”“A predictably busy night confirmed what we knew, alcohol and social distancing is not a good combination,” tweeted John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales.Sgt. Richard Cooke of the West Midlands police tweeted, “Just got home after a long shift, late shift peppered with pub fights, domestic violence & drunken, drugged up fools. If today was anything to go by the second wave won’t be long in the making!”People sit and drink, outside a pub on the south bank of river Thames, as the capital is set to reopen after the lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, in London, July 4, 2020.Rafal Liszewski, a store manager in the London district of Soho, told reporters that on Saturday, “Everything got out of control. And by 8 to 9 p.m., it was a proper street party, with people dancing and drinking. Barely anyone was wearing masks, and nobody respected social distancing,” he said. Liszewski added, “To be honest, with that many people on one street, it was physically impossible” (to social distance).Beaches have also seen swarms of people. In the English coastal town of Bournemouth, Mayor Vikki Slade said recently she was “absolutely appalled at the scenes witnessed on our beaches.”Britain has not been alone in seeing months of lockdown giving way to impromptu parties, illicit raves and illegal parties, hastily organized on social media and held in parks and industrial estates. In Portugal, a ban in Lisbon on gatherings of more than five people was instituted amid reports of illicit parties attracting thousands of young revelers. Portugal had been hailed as one of Europe’s coronavirus success stories. The government’s swift response was credited with keeping the country’s death toll to well under 2,000. But in recent weeks, cases have soared. Parties have proven fertile for the virus — 76 new cases were linked to a birthday celebration in The Algarve.“After doing everything right, we’re not going to ruin it now,” Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa said, as he banned drinking in public places and prohibited restaurants from serving alcohol after 8 p.m. Germany, France and Spain have all been worried about block parties and raves.Visitors watch oil on canvas of 1807 entitled Le Sacre de Napoleon by Jacques Louis David, at the Louvre Museum, in Paris, July 6, 2020.The World Health Organization warned that around 30 European countries have reported new case surges in the past two weeks, and epidemiologists said the trajectory is alarming in 11 countries.Spanish officials, who recently fined Belgium’s Prince Joachim $11,700 after he broke the country’s quarantine rules to attend a party in southern Spain, fear that people will not be able to resist the allure of the country’s ingrained culture of summer fiestas — as hundreds did recently in a spontaneous gathering in the Menorcan city of Ciutadella to mark the day of local Saint Joan.Along with officials, infectious disease experts blame signs of a resurgence on the negligence of the public, with too many people ignoring orders to wear masks and keep their distance. But critics in several European countries fault officials, saying governments have been giving mixed signals in their eagerness to restart economies and end lockdowns, and have issued at times contradictory and confused instructions. They say governments seem to be positioning themselves to blame the public for a coronavirus resurgence.David King, a former chief scientific adviser to the British government, has criticized the lockdown easing as over-hasty. “We need to look at the fastest route out of COVID-19, and that is not the current route,” he said. 

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France’s New Government Takes Office at Tough Time 

France’s newly appointed government gets down to work this week facing big challenges, including coronavirus and the economic crisis — not to mention general elections in less than two years.
 
The new government takes office just over a week after President Emmanuel Macron’s Republic on the Move party fared poorly in the second round of local elections. France’s new prime minister Jean Castex arrives at the Elysee Palace for the weekly cabinet meeting, in Paris, July 7, 2020.Heading it is Prime Minister Jean Castex, a little known former mayor from the Pyrenees. He earned the title of “Mr. Deconfinement” after managing France’s emergence from the coronavirus lockdown.  He replaces the popular Edouard Philippe, a possible challenger to Macron in the next election.  “President Macron has one goal: to fight the recession, to transform the country, to be in a better shape than now for the next presidential election,” said Ulysse Gosset, a political commentator for France’s BFMTV.“The job of the new prime minister is to execute the orders from Macron,” added Gosset. “He has to deal with the crisis. And no more. Macron doesn’t want a prime minister who could be a competitor like former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was.”  
Making more waves is the new interior minister, Gerard Darmanin. At 35, he’s the youngest interior minister of France’s Fifth Republic. He takes over at a time when the police force is demoralized and faces allegations of racism and brutality.  Newly appointed French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin arrives to attend the weekly Cabinet meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, July 7, 2020.Darmanin himself faces a preliminary investigation into a rape accusation, which Macron’s office says didn’t pose an obstacle to his appointment.  Police unions have offered a muted reaction to their new boss. But some feminists protested in front of the Elysee presidential palace.  New Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti is also controversial. He’s earned a reputation as a pugnacious lawyer defending Corsican nationalists, African politicians and Wikileaks founder Julien Assange. One judges union leader slammed his appointment as a “declaration of war” against the judiciary.  Macron’s reshuffled government faces heavy pressure to take environmental action after the Greens Party surged in municipal elections.Barbara Pompili, newly appointed French Minister for the Ecological Transition, arrives to attend the weekly Cabinet meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, July 7, 2020.The new minister for ecological transition, Barbara Pompili, co-founded an environmental party, and was a former secretary of state for biodiversity. But she isn’t a big name, and she’ll face close scrutiny in how she handles emissions reduction and other green goals.  

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Russian Court Fines Coronavirus-Denying Rebel Monk

A Russian court on Tuesday fined a coronavirus-denying monk who has challenged Kremlin lockdown orders for spreading false information about the pandemic.The court in the Ural Mountains region ordered Father Sergiy to pay 90,000 rubles ($1,250). The 65-year-old monk, who has attracted nationwide attention by urging followers to disobey church leadership and ignore church closures during the pandemic, didn’t attend the court hearing.On Friday, a Russian Orthodox Church panel in Yekaterinburg ruled to defrock Father Sergiy for breaking monastic rules. He didn’t show up at the session and dismissed the verdict, urging his backers to come to defend the Sredneuralsk women’s monastery where he has holed up since last month.In Friday’s video posted by his supporters, Father Sergiy denounced President Vladimir Putin as a “traitor to the Motherland” serving a Satanic “world government” and dismissed Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill and other top clerics as “heretics” who must be “thrown out.”Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin wasn’t following developments regarding the rebel monk.  When contagion engulfed Russia, Father Sergiy declared the coronavirus non-existent and denounced government efforts to stem the outbreak as “Satan’s electronic camp.” The monk has described the vaccines being developed against COVID-19 as part of a global plot to control the masses via chips.He urged believers to disobey the closure of churches during the nationwide lockdown. Orthodox churches across Russia were closed on April 13 amid a quick rise in COVID-19 cases and were allowed to reopen in early June as authorities eased restrictions.The church banned the monk from ministry in April, but he has continued preaching and last month took charge of the monastery outside Yekaterinburg that he had founded years ago. Dozens of burly volunteers, including veterans of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, helped enforce his rules, while the prioress and several nuns have left.The police visited the monastery last month a day after Father Sergiy took over, but found no violations of public order. Facing stiff resistance by his supporters, church officials have appeared indecisive, lacking the means to enforce their ruling and evict the rebellious monk by force. 

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Progress in AIDS/HIV Fight Uneven, UN Says

The United Nations says global HIV/AIDS targets for 2020 will not be met, and that some progress could be lost, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seriously impacted the HIV/AIDS response.“Our report shows that COVID is threatening to throw us even more off course,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS said Monday at the report’s launch in Geneva. “COVID is a disease that is claiming resources — the labs, the scientists, the health workers — away from HIV work. We want governments to use creative ways to keep the fight going on both. One disease cannot be used to fight another.”COVID-19 is the disease caused by the new coronavirus.UNAIDS says despite expanding HIV treatment coverage — some 25 million of the 38 million people living with HIV now have access to antiretroviral therapy — progress is stalling. Over the last two years, new infections have plateaued at 1.7 million a year, and deaths have only dropped slightly — from 730,000 in 2018 to 690,000 last year. The U.N. attributes this to HIV prevention and testing services not reaching the most vulnerable groups, including sex workers, intravenous drug users, prisoners and gay men.COVID-19 poses an additional threat to the HIV/AIDS response because it can prevent people from accessing treatment. The U.N. estimates that if HIV patients are cut off from treatment for six months, it could lead to a half-million more deaths in sub-Saharan Africa over the next year, setting the region back to 2008 AIDS mortality levels. Even a 20% disruption could cause an additional 110,000 deaths.HIV/AIDS patients who contract COVID-19 are also at heightened risk of death, as the virus preys on weakened immune systems.The World Health Organization warned Monday that 73 countries are at risk of running out of antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The WHO says 24 countries have reported having either a critically low stock of ARVs or disruptions in the supply chain.FILE – A doctor takes an AIDS/HIV blood test from an athlete during the 18th National Sports Festival in Lagos, Nigeria.Gains and lossesUNAIDS reports progress in eastern and southern Africa, where new HIV infections have dropped by 38% since 2010. But women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa continue to bear the brunt of the disease, accounting for nearly 60% of all new HIV infections in the region in 2019. Each week, some 4,500 teen girls and young women becoming infected. They are disproportionately affected, making up only 10% of the population, but nearly a quarter of new infections.Condom use has also dropped off in parts of central and western Africa, while it has risen in eastern and southern parts of the continent.Eastern Europe and Central Asia is one of only three regions where new infections are growing. Nearly half of all infections are among intravenous drug users. Only 63% of people who know their HIV status are on treatment. UNAIDS says there is an urgent need to scale up HIV prevention services, particularly in Russia.The Middle East and North Africa have also seen new infections rise by 22%, while they are up 21% in Latin America.“New infections are coming down in sub-Saharan Africa, but going up in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, going up in the Middle East and North Africa, and going up in Latin America. That’s disturbing,” Byanyima, the UNAIDS chief said.Progress is also impacted by draconian laws and social stigma. At least 82 countries criminalize some form of HIV transmission, exposure or nondisclosure.  Sex work is criminalized in at least 103 countries, and at least 108 countries criminalize the consumption or possession of drugs for personal use.One of UNAIDS’s main targets was to achieve “90-90-90” by this year. That means 90% of all people living with HIV would know their status; 90% of those diagnosed would be on antiretroviral treatment; and 90% of all people on treatment would have suppressed the virus in their system.Only 14 countries have reached the target, including Eswatini, which has one of the highest HIV rates in the world. The others are Australia, Botswana, Cambodia, Ireland, Namibia, the Netherlands, Rwanda, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.“It can be done,” Byanyima said. “We see rich and poor countries achieving the targets.”Globally, there have been gains in testing and treatment for HIV. By the end of 2019, more than 80% of people living with HIV worldwide knew their status, and more than two-thirds were receiving treatment. Therapies have also advanced, meaning nearly 60% of all people with HIV had suppressed viral loads in 2019.UNAIDS says that increased access to medications has prevented some 12.1 million AIDS-related deaths in the past decade.  While some 690,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses last year, that is a nearly 40% reduction since 2010.

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Czech Volunteers Develop Functioning Lung Ventilator іn Days

Tomas Kapler knew nothing about ventilators — he’s an online business consultant, not an engineer or a medical technician. But when he saw that shortages of the vital machines had imperiled critically ill COVID-19 patients in northern Italy, he was moved to action.”It was a disturbing feeling for me that because of a lack of equipment the doctors had to decide whether a person gets a chance to live,” Kapler said. “That seemed so horrific to me that it was an impulse to do something.”And so he did. “I just said to myself: ‘Can we simply make the ventilators?'” he said.  Working around the clock, he brought together a team of 30 Czechs to develop a fully functional ventilator — Corovent. And they did it in a matter of days.Kapler is a member of an informal group of volunteers formed by IT companies and experts who offered to help the state fight the pandemic. The virus struck here slightly later than in western Europe but the number of infected was rising and time was running out.”It seemed that on the turn of March and April, we might be in the same situation as Italy,” Kapler said.  Ventilators had become a precious commodity. Their price was skyrocketing and so was demand that the traditional makers were unable to immediately meet.”Corovent” lung ventilators, manufactured in Trebic, Czech Republic, are being tested, June 17, 2020.Components for the ventilators were also in critically short supply. So Kapler said he set out to “make a ventilator from the parts that are used in common machines.”  A crowd-funding campaign ensured the necessary finances in just hours.Kapler approached Karel Roubik, professor of Biomedical Engineering at the Czech Technical University for help. He, in turn, assembled colleagues through Skype, while his post-graduate student tested the new design in their lab in Kladno, west of Prague.They had a working prototype in five days, something that would normally take a year.Roubik said their simple design makes the machine reliable, inexpensive, and easy to operate and mass produce.  A group of volunteer pilots flew their planes to deliver anything needed. And then MICO, an energy and chemical company based in Trebic, 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Kladno, offered to do the manufacturing.Flights between the two places helped fine-tune the production line in a few weeks.  “I didn’t do anything more than those people who were making the face masks,” said MICO’s chief executive, Jiri Denner. “They did the maximum they could. And I did the maximum I could.”With the certification for emergency use in the European Union approved, the ventilator was ready in April — but it was not needed in the Czech Republic, which had managed to contain the outbreak.MICO has submitted a request for approval for emergency use in the United States, Brazil, Russia and other countries. Meanwhile, they’ve applied for EU certification for common hospital use.”Originally, we thought it would be just an emergency ventilator for the Czech Republic,” Kapler said. “But it later turned out that the ventilators will be needed in the entire world.”Kapler looks back at the effort with satisfaction.”I had to quit my job and I have been without pay for several months,” he said. “But otherwise, it was mostly positive for me. I’ve met many fantastic people who are willing to help.”Or to quote the slogan printed on the ventilator’s box: “Powered by Czech heart.”
 

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Italy’s Tourism Industry Misses American Big Spenders

Tourists are back in Italy – a country that a few months ago was the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe, suffering nearly 35,000 deaths.European Union borders have re-opened to tourists from a list of countries without the need to quarantine.  But the United States is not on that list – much to the dismay of businesses in Italy.  With the tourism industry accounting for 13 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product, the Italian economy – already battered by the COVID-19 pandemic – is expected to suffer significant losses without American tourists who are also the biggest spenders.Since the country began reopening its borders June 3, European travelers were the first to return and then starting last week, those from a number of non-EU nations followed. However, American tourists – the second largest group of visitors to Italy after the Germans – are still barred from entering the country, except for urgent reasons.
 
Today, the few American visitors seen in Italy often have a story to tell. Colleen Hewson, a retiree from the U.S. city of Detroit, and her husband came in March to visit the ruins at Pompeii only to find it closed due to the pandemic. They were caught in Italy’s lockdown, stayed, and were among the first to reenter the archeological site when it reopened at the end of May.
 
“We’re here on a vacation for our 30th (wedding) anniversary staying at an Airbnb (vacation home rental) with a local and he was nice enough to accommodate us until the lockdown was over and the ruins have opened,” Colleen Hewson said.Italy’s Amalfi CoastItaly’s Amalfi Coast is among areas affected by the absence of usually big-spending American tourists 
Expensive hotels popular with Americans such as in the Amalfi Coast area are bracing themselves for big losses this vacation season. Some have partially reopened, while others not at all.  
 
Fifteen million Americans visit Europe each year, many of them during the summer. Their absence is a huge blow since they account for ten percent of Europe’s overall economy.
 
The EU’s decision to exclude travelers from certain nations, including the United States, is based on infection rates. Other major countries whose tourists are barred include Brazil and Russia. Citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, and South Korea are allowed in.
 
Last week, five American tourists made the news when they were denied entry to Sardinia, another favorite destination with Americans. They were forced to leave Cagliari airport after flying into the Mediterranean island on a private jet.  
 
The Italian government says 5.6 million Americans visit Italy every year, with July being their preferred month of travel. Aside from the more common destinations like Rome, Venice, Florence and Milan, many flock to the sea resorts like the Amalfi Coast and the major islands of Sardinia and Sicily – where the food and culture are named as the biggest draw.  
 

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Turkey: Khashoggi’s Fiancee Appears at Absent Saudis’ Trial 

The fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi told a Turkish court July 3 that the Washington Post columnist was lured to his death at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul through “a great betrayal and deception,” and she asked that all persons responsible for his killing be brought to justice. Hatice Cengiz spoke at the opening of the trial in absentia of two former aides of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and 18 other Saudi nationals who were charged in Turkey for Khashoggi’s grisly slaying.  The journalist’s 2018 killing at the consulate sparked international condemnation and cast a cloud of suspicion over the prince. FILE – In this Nov. 2, 2018, photo, a video image of Hatice Cengiz, fiancee of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, picured below, is displayed during a memorial event in Washington, Oct. 2, 2018.The 20 Saudi defendants all left Turkey, and Saudi Arabia rejected Turkish demands for their extradition. Some of the men were put on trial in Riyadh behind closed doors. The proceedings were widely criticized as a whitewash. Khashoggi’s family members later announced they had forgiven his killers. The trial in Turkey is being closely watched for possible new information or evidence from the killing, including the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains.  FILE – A still image taken from CCTV video and obtained by TRT World claims to show Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, highlighted in a red circle by the source, as he arrives at Saudi Arabia’s Consulate in Istanbul, Oct. 2, 2018.Khashoggi, who was a United States resident, had walked into his country’s consulate on Oct. 2, 2018, for an appointment to pick up documents that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancee. He never walked out. “He was called [to the consulate] with great betrayal and deception,” the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Cengiz as testifying. Hatice Cengiz leaves the Justice Palace in Istanbul, July 3, 2020.”I am making a complaint about everyone who knew about the incident and about everyone who gave the order,” said Cengiz, who waited for Khashoggi outside the Istanbul consulate when he went there to obtain the documents and alerted authorities when he failed to come out.  Yasin Aktay, a prominent politician from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party and a friend of Khashoggi’s, told the court that the slain journalist felt safe in Turkey despite reports of “operations by Saudis against dissidents abroad.” Aktay also testified that he alerted Turkey’s intelligence chief, among other officials, after Khashoggi failed to emerge from the consulate after five hours. He said the intelligence chief responded, “I wish he hadn’t gone in,” according to Anadolu.  The court also heard testimony from six local Turkish employees of the Saudi Consulate. Five of them said they did not see Khashoggi,. One said he had a brief conversation with the journalist when Khashoggi first entered the building but did not see him again after that. The trial was adjourned until Nov. 24 to await several actions, including an Interpol response to correspondence concerning Turkish requests for the suspects’ arrests, Anadolu reported. Turkish prosecutors have demanded that the defendants be sentenced to life terms in prison, if convicted.  The Turkish prosecutors have charged the prince’s former advisers, Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed al-Asiri, with “instigating a premeditated murder with the intent of [causing] torment through fiendish instinct.” Prosecutors are also seeking life prison sentences for 18 other Saudi nationals charged with carrying out “a premeditated murder with the intent of [causing] torment through fiendish instincts.” A team of 15 Saudi agents had flown to Turkey to meet Khashoggi inside the consulate. They included a forensic doctor, intelligence and security officers and individuals who worked for the crown prince’s office.  Turkish officials allege Khashoggi was killed and then dismembered with a bone saw. Turkey, a rival of Saudi Arabia, apparently had the Saudi Consulate bugged and has shared audio of the killing with the CIA, among others. Prior to his killing, Khashoggi had written critically of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince in columns for The Washington Post.  Saudi Arabia had initially offered shifting accounts about Khashoggi’s disappearance. As international pressure mounted because of the Turkish leaks, the kingdom eventually settled on the explanation that he was killed by rogue officials in a brawl.  Turkish prosecutors say the suspects “acted in consensus from the beginning in line with the decision of taking the victim back to Saudi Arabia and of killing him if he did not agree.” Riyadh had insisted that the kingdom’s courts are the correct place for the suspects to be tried and put 11 people on trial over the killing. In December, five people were sentenced to death while three others were found guilty of covering up the crime and were sentenced to a combined 24 years in prison.  During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in May, Khashoggi’s son announced that the family pardoned the killers, giving legal reprieve to the five government agents who were sentenced to death.  

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